Nationwide, interest in blueberries has skyrocketed in recent years because of their many well documented healthy attributes. For more than half a century blueberries have been tied to common remedies for a plethora of digestive tract problems.

Today, they are being touted among other things to:

• Lower blood pressure;

• Reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes;

• Help prevent urinary tract infections;

• Reduce inflammation;

• Reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress.

Michigan is the top producer, but 40 percent of the 2012 blueberry crop in the U.S. (totaling 461.8 million pounds) was grown in the western states of California, Washington and Oregon.

The Southeast, predominantly Florida, Georgia and North Carolina produces about one-fourth of the total U.S. blueberry production in any given year.

The growth in domestic production is dwarfed by increases in production in South America, especially Chile, which produces most of the off-season (winter) blueberries consumed in the U.S. between November and April.

“Blueberries are grown in every county in North Carolina and probably in most counties in neighboring states as well, but commercial production, meaning growers who compete on a national market, and who ship blueberries in large quantities all over the world, is centered in this eight or nine county area in southeastern North Carolina, Cline says.

“I get the question all the time, ‘why can’t we grow blueberries in other areas of North Carolina?. The answer is simple on the one hand — you can — and many farmers do grow the crop on a part-time basis for local, fresh market sales.

“On the other hand to grow the crop commercially as a full-time job, the answer is more complex, but basically comes down to cost of production versus value of the crop,” he adds.